Tuesday the Trump administration proposed to lift a longstanding ban on logging in the south eastern Tongass National Forest in Alaska. If adopted the proposal would exempt the Tongass National Forest from the Roadless Initiative prohibiting logging in underdeveloped forests. The current proposal outlines six different alternatives, where the department has a stated preference for alternative number six, which would seek to fully exempt Tongass from the Roadless Rule. This would legalize logging of 9.2 million acres of inventoried roadless acres and convert 165,000 old-growth acres and 20,000 young-growth acres previously identified as unsuitable to suitable timber lands. The full list of alternatives can be found at USDA’s website.
The move has been met with substantial skepticism from leading environmentalist:
Alaska’s elected officials are selling out their constituents and robbing future generations by trying to strip protection from one of the most pristine old-growth forests in the worldRandi Spivak, Public Lands Director at the Center for Biological Diversity
However, its proponents argue that the roadless rule stifles growth and hinders the future prosperity of the Alaskan economy.
As Alaskans know well, the Roadless Rule hinders our ability to responsibly harvest timber, develop minerals, connect communities, or build energy projects to lower costs — including renewable energy projects like hydropower, all of which severely impedes the economy of SoutheastSen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska)
This USDA will publish the proposal this week which will begin a 60 day period where members of the public can comment on the proposal and on the different outlined alternatives in the draft. These comments will be used by the Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue when he is expected to make a final decision on this by June 2020.
The Tongass National Forest is home to a unique ecology and have been designated by environmental groups as part of The Great Bear Rainforest, along with the Central and Northern coastal parts of British Columbia. Furthermore, 80% of of the wild salmons harvested from Southeast Alaska are spawned in Tongass rivers, lakes and streams. The combined commercial impact of Salmon from Tongass was estimated by the United States Department of Agriculture to be worth upwards of $1 billion.
The Tongass National Forest was inclulded in the Roadless Initiative during the last days of President Clinton’s presidency in 2001. The Roadless Initaitive or Roadless Area Conservation as the name implies is an environmental initiative undertaken with the aim to reduce the environmental impact of roads and road constructions. In the US this has primarily been focused on forests areas that are known as Inventoried Roadless Areas.